If there are just a few "salty" spots, try highlights. "They don’t cover gray per se, but they minimize it by blending the silver in with the rest of your hair color," says Kyle White, a senior colorist at the Oscar Blandi Salon in New York. If you have more than a little salt but it’s still less than 30 percent of your overall color, try a semipermanent dye, which covers gray but does no damage because it’s ammonia-free. (Most semipermanent dyes last for about 28 shampoos.) If a third or more of your hair is gray, go with permanent color. Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Perfect 10 Hair Color ($14) is available in 20 shades and is relatively low in ammonia.
Gray hair follicles produce little oil and next to no melanin, says Richard Korb, a scientist in research and development at Unilever (maker of Dove Hair Care). A glossing treatment can help. A good at-home version costs less than salon, and results last about a week. Try John Frieda Luminous Color Glaze, which comes in five tinted shades as well as one clear formula ($10).
Tip: To maximize post-glaze shine, deep condition weekly to smooth your hair’s cuticle (its outer layer) and create a flat, light-reflecting surface — Oscar Blandi Marine Mud Treatment ($26) instantly hydrates parched grays and will help a glossing treatment endure.
The depletion of moisture and melanin (which plump strands) can also cause gray hair to become limp. Using a volumizing product like mousse can make the difference — it coats each strand and increases its diameter. We recommend Dove Body and Lift Volumizing Mousse ($4) and Keune Tinta Color Mousse($16; 800-330-9302 for stores), which comes in nine sheer shades so you can pump up your hair’s volume and mute gray.
The cuticle of a silver strand tends to be rougher than a pigmented one, creating that wiry, won’t-lie-flat effect, says Teca Gillespie, a Pantene scientist. Glosses and conditioners add smoothness — as does using a boar bristle brush. It will also help to stick with a styler that contains silicone (a cuticle-flattening ingredient) such as Pantene Pro-V Smooth Serum ($7) and Kerastase Oleo-Relax Serum ($34), a potent wiry-strand smoother — a dime-size drop for your whole head is plenty.
Fed up with maintenance? Consider going natural. "Silver hair can be elegant," says Rick Wellman, co-owner and color director of the Patrick Melville Salon, in New York City. "But you should still visit the salon twice a year. Left alone, gray can get dirty-looking and dull." At home, brighten up with a purple-tinted shampoo like Clairol Shimmer Lights Shampoo ($10). "Just don’t use it more than twice a week — or the purple can give gray strands a bluish cast," he says. Also, Pantene Pro-V Silver Expressions Shampoo and Conditioner ($6 each) can be used in combination to brighten silvery strands.
Originally published in MORE magazine, February 2009.